Top Gear’s Burma Special in which Jeremy Clarkson used the racial slur “slope” has been found to be in breach of the Ofcom code.
The regulator has ruled that Clarkson flouted its rules by using “an offensive racial term” on an edition of the show broadcast on BBC2 in March.
The programme featured a segment showing the hosts looking at a bridge they had built on the River Kwai as a local man walked across it.
Clarkson remarked: “That is a proud moment. But there’s a slope on it.”
Co-presenter Richard Hammond replies: “You are right…[pointing]…it is definitely higher on that side.”
Jeremy Clarkson then narrates, over images of the bridge: “…we decide to ignore the slope and move onto the opening ceremony.”
Ofcom, who investigated after two viewers complained that the word was a derogatory racial slur, said the use of the word “slope” was offensive.
The regulator ruled: “Ofcom’s view is that the word ‘slope’ is a pejorative racial term which has the potential to be offensive to Asian people specifically, as well as to viewers more generally.”
It added that the BBC also had time to research whether the word was offensive and failed to do so.
“Ofcom noted that this sequence was scripted in advance, and that clear consideration was given at the time of production to using the term ‘slope’ to formulate what the production team intended to be humorous word play around it,” its adjudication noted.
In its defence to Ofcom the BBC argued that that Clarkson thought the word was “slang” and “an inoffensive, humorous play on words,” rather than an offensive term.
The programme-makers said that they were “not aware at the time that it had the potential to cause offence particularly in some countries outside the UK” and had they been aware of this, the word would not have been used in this context.
The broadcast was found to be in breach of section 2.3 of the broadcasting code, which covers generally accepted standards. No further action is currently planned by Ofcom, but under the regulator’s rules repeated breaches could elicit a fine.
The BBC responded to the ruling with the following statement: “We dealt with this matter some time ago, the programme apologised at the time and explained the context, and we are now focussing on delivering another series of one of Britain’s best loved shows.”
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years writing for Stage newspaper, Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.